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Bitterness Is A Coping Skill For Pain- Not Just Anger

We have shared about how to “uproot” the root of bitterness in your life. Additionally, we’ve discussed how not to allow bitterness to take root in the first place, and the importance of maintaining a soft heart. Compiling a “how to” list is easy when it comes to overcoming feelings of bitterness, but if we avoid discussing the real root of the issue, and how it affects believers, the vicious cycle can still repeat.

We seek to get you out of the bitterness loop by forcing you to have a realistic look at what bitterness truly is at the core, and getting to the real root of the problem- no pun intended!

From the outside, people avoid those who are bitter at all costs. The bitter person is depicted as that angry, often hostile, sometimes confrontational, irrational, staunch individual that just can’t let go. It’s easy from the outside to tell someone to just forgive and forget, but when you have been deeply emotionally wounded, it may not be quite so easy.

Most people don’t just wake up and say to themselves, “Hey, I feel like being the most crotchety person alive today!” Bitterness happens over time, and is often caused by emotional distress. Bitterness arises when we are confronted with something that in some way rocks us to our emotional core.

Bitterness

One person that I knew became bitter (and I do mean bitter!) towards her husband who not only verbally abused her on a regular basis, but was irresponsible financially as well. She not only had to deal with him telling her that she was worthless and incompetent, but she had to bail him out continually for making impulsive purchases that they simply could not afford.

I have known her for years, and she didn’t begin our relationship as bitter. In fact, she was quite hopeful, and viewed her marriage with optimism. Despite people telling her that her husband’s words were less than thoughtful towards her, they didn’t really have a visible effect until God opened her eyes and she began to see herself as so much more.

His words became lies, and to overcome those untruths about herself, she had to see him as a liar (she had to see that Satan was using him) in order to heal herself. However, in doing so, she emotionally distanced herself so that the words had less impact on her self-esteem.

Once bolstered by her new-found identity, she began to find herself fighting back against the words that he so carelessly flung at her. The relationship became very volatile for awhile, and in protecting herself from his hurtful words, bitterness arose in her.

Instead of praying over her husband as she should have, or asking God to protect/heal her, she turned the “lying words” into a type of indignation. She lacked compassion for her husband, and refused to see that this was an ingrained behavior within him since childhood.

The bitterness finally broke in her life after she asked God to soften her heart towards her husband. She learned that she had used bitterness as a coping technique because it hardened her heart. Once her heart was hardened, she could move on because the words didn’t hurt quite so much.

She mistakenly thought that she had healed because she could now cope. For years she had taken on those words spoken over her. Over time they had eroded her sense of self, and left her questioning her own perspectives. Many times, she would find a private place and cry.

Bitterness alleviated the pain that she felt. Not only did it halt the hurtful feelings of being told she was inept, but she could now see her husband’s words as mere lies. It seemed like a great coping skill at the time….

But bitterness didn’t allow her to heal

Bitterness just made her angry and masked the pain. It’s no different than someone who turns to an addiction as a coping skill. It’s mere avoidance of dealing with what hurts. Remove the bitterness, and the pain resurfaces. And while the pain should be dealt with, it often is so overwhelming to the person because they’ve just piled it on so deeply that they feel raw inside.

Most run from the pain instead of embracing it. That’s how someone can ping-pong back and forth from forgiveness to anger. They deceive themselves into thinking that they have gotten over it because it doesn’t hurt anymore, but if you listen to them, you quickly get the picture that they haven’t let it go.

My friend’s breakthrough didn’t come through just sitting down and deciding to forgive. It came when she asked God to soften her heart towards her husband. It was the compassion that God took her through that allowed her to see the truth.

God opened her eyes to see the horrors that her husband had suffered as a child. Because there was no baseline, or “normal” in the emotional spectrum at home, and he was punished erratically for behaviour, he developed trust issues. It was his lack of trusting in people that led to the demise of several relationships, and it was his own bitterness that prevented people around him to draw close.

She saw how superfluous his relationships with others were- he just didn’t let anyone in. His harsh words to her came out of an internal struggle with his own self-worth- something that he didn’t recognize, nor did he want to deal with.

Instead of being angry at him, my friend finally began to have empathy for what he must have gone through. She found the “why” that enabled her to not only forgive, but to help the marriage become stronger by allowing her husband to heal from his past.

When we see bitterness in it’s proper context- as a coping mechanism- it forces us to examine ourselves to discover what we are avoiding. What caused us to be so angry? What hurt so much, and what caused our lack of trust to surface? Bitterness is a lack of trust- in both the offender, and in God to heal/restore.

Bitterness says that God can heal your emotional wounds, nor can He take the pain away. It says that God can’t fix the problem, so until He does, we are just going to shut down our good (godly) emotions and bury ourselves in hatred.

The problem is that no one wins. The angry person is coping, but not healing because they aren’t addressing the root cause. They aren’t coping with the pain of the issue, they are just avoiding dealing with it. As a result, they are someone that people avoid because of their hostility.

They can’t move on, because in doing so, they would have to face that something was done to them that they couldn’t control, nor prevent, and it was unfair. It hurt them emotionally and significantly on a deep level. They simply cannot deal with the pain, so they cover it up in order to survive.

Yet it is in facing the problem and praying that we overcome feelings of bitterness. In bitterness, not only does our heart harden towards the offender, but hardens completely to both God and others. God can’t speak to a hardened heart, but He can melt it.

In overcoming bitterness, one has to realize that the pain is still there- it is just hidden. And while it can hurt tremendously when we are confronted with it, we need to allow God in to heal that hurt. This is the only way we can move on in life.

So the next time you encounter that angry, bitter person, ask yourselves what happened in their life to make them this way. What hurts are they harbouring, and how can they deal with a pain that they would rather avoid? This is where you, and God come in. This is where they will experience the greatest freedom, and the greatest relief.

The bitterness bondage will finally be broken.

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